Computer Software Players (foobar2000, JRiver Media Center)

I’ve always been a “bits are bits” sort of lad, though I have managed to discern differences in software media players on my mobile(*). That said, it should be no surprise that I’d gravitate towards the foobar2000 community, with its myriad customisation options and promises of bit-perfect output.

Long story short, someone whose listening skills I respect recently took a dump on the SQ of foobar, which came as something of a surprise as I did an extensive comparison between it and the much-regarded Audirvana+ and found no discernible differences save for that the output off A+ was a hell of a lot louder, making level-matched testing annoying. Conclusion: this is all being put out to a DAC so chances are my ears just aren’t skilled enough to tell them apart. A+ certainly looked fancier, but being on a Windows machine I found it didn’t quite perform as advertised.

Plus f2k was literally free, so it had that going for it. My A+ trial period lapsed and I I didn’t find myself mourning it, all hail the overlord of software audio players! Besides, I have it looking just how I wanted, and I’m loath to give up the cool retro aesthetic I’ve got going on:

Then of course, my persistently curious ass wanted to try and see if I could get better sound for relatively cheap— I’m not what it is about paying for digital licences that feels so much more painful than shelling out the same for a physical product, but that’s how it goes. Off to the JRiver landing page I went, and several long minutes later (Philippine internet sucks) I’m ready to give pricey software another chance.

It was subtle, but there was a proper difference to my ears this time around. I figured that was confirmation bias at play, not to mention I’ve got an absolute hell of a cold at the moment and my sinuses are painfully swollen, never mind what the state of my eustachian tubes must be, so I slept on it and decided to give it a try later on.This was a few days ago.

I’m still sick, and if anything I feel even worse now than I did a few days back. My hearing’s far more sensitive as a result so I’ve not been listening to music as much, even then at somewhat lower volumes than usual, but near as I could tell listening to my digital collection on JRiver is much less tiring. I’ve not done an extensive A/B, but the differences are really quite overt; on the same tracks at with volume as close as I could manage f2k comes off as more abrasive and less pleasant on the ears, not to mention JRMC paints a more cohesive soundscape (yes, with all DSP turned off). The recidivist objectivist in me wants to say that the latter player is just attenuating the upper frequencies and that I could perhaps achieve a similar effect with parametric EQ, but even excepting the fact that I’m EQ-averse as a matter of principle JRiver is just a hell of a lot nicer to use and has competent DSP that makes watching movies and more fun on my rig.

Is an incremental improvement in sound quality worth $60? Dunno, ask me when my free trial expires in a few weeks. It may not be my aesthetic but this is still damned pretty to look at, though:

What are your experiences with software audio players on Windows/Mac/Linux, and what’s your favourite so far?

  1. (*) I ended up going for PowerAmp as it was significantly less fatiguing-sounding than Neutron or whatever other software players were FotM at the time I was looking, plus it’s easy on the eyes. The fact that it didn’t cost more than a decent glass of liquor was a nice bonus too.

Winamp is free and just had a new release…

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I never got around to using WinAmp even back in its heyday, I just wasn’t as interested in music back then, off as that sounds to me now. Definitely giving it a look-see and comparing while my JRMC trial is still valid! Hopefully my head’s less stuffy before then.

I assume those who were lifetime members in the old days will have to repurchase.

I think they released it free to everyone… I could be wrong…or maybe they have plans for a premium version.

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I have been using hysolid lately. The pc is powered on but not logged in. Sounds very nice

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I’ve tried most players (and am definitely a bits is bits guy).
I’ve used foobar near exclusively for many years now and although I’ve tried other players on other platforms I’ve never heard any improvements in SQ.
Your interface is attractive but has a lot of visual stuff going on.
When I’m using foobar I tend to try to keep the interface static with no visual activity happening in the UI.
Perhaps a bit purist but the less activity on the computer when playing music the better IMO, for critical listening at least.
Once foobar is configured properly with all the components you want/need, it is a tough player to beat. And as mentioned… It’s free. Although your time spent on the learning curve might be considered a cost.


The visual stuff is part of my self-education, being able to “see” how sounds work and how they translate to what I’m hearing with my gear, haha. I do think that sacrificing SQ for the sake of visualisation is silly as well, but I’ve not had any issues with f2k’s performance to date.

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As quoted from my comment but I’ll also use visualization at times.
I like the spectrogram on foobar where you can add colors as you like (and even have it go full screen). It really can seem a visual representation of the music.
I’m not even sure it matters that much and placebo might play a part. I just read in several places that the less going on the better if you’re trying to keep the noise down and be sure of bit perfect playback.

Also, for streaming especially, IMO the less going on besides the playback the better as I find that allows for fewer chances of stuttering/dropouts.

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Haha, no worries, I gotcha. That might be something worth looking into, actually, if I can figure out how to save my layout settings so I can putz around with the UX a bit, haha.

My source going into my DAC is a laptop, so hardly optimised for quiet playback. While I’m certain that the Bifrost Multibit isn’t the best DAC around I feel that I might get more greater returns from a proper CD transport, or at the very least a music server so I don’t have to forsake my digital collection, than I would from spending on a better DAC.

One aspect of this hobby that I love is how one gets to better enjoy music they like; one aspect of this hobby that I don’t much care for is all the associated nervosa :stuck_out_tongue:

I posted some thoughts/summaries on OS X/cross-platform music players (etc.), here.

There’s no Windows-only stuff in there.

While the details are best kept for a “not just off a plane after five days with far too little sleep and way too much fun” post … in blind tests I’ve only found two players/tools that sound different - and I’m fairly convinced that examining the bit-level output from those tools will show there is EQ and/or other processing at work there.


I’ve always had a great deal of respect for how Apple products sounded, though their business practices and willingness to charge extortionate fees of their customers when their products inevitably encounter problems has always rubbed me the wrong way, as if they somehow see themselves as having rarefied airs for doing so, haha.

My personal vendettas aside, I ruefully concede that iPhones sound good for their being phones, with all those noisy little modules and whatnot tucked into every available niche, same with MacBooks. Add to that excellent software like Audirvana and you’ve a compelling argument for not needing discrete components (provided you’re among the many people satisfied with “tolerable” sound with no compelling drive for “better”). But hey, we know better :))

Audirvana was a PITA to get to work on my machine, and in retrospect with new information made available from Friends elsewhere chances are I wasn’t really getting bit-perfect out during my trial, which I spent a few days with but didn’t really feel a need to complete. I managed to set JRMC up so that it’s bit-perfect, I think, but since I’ve got 20+ days to tinker with it I’m thinking I’ll catch up on my reading and give my ears a break, focus on recovering from the worst cold I’ve had in ages, haha.

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Glad you’re back! Sounds like you had a blast!


I hope you’re feeling better soon!

(JRiver > foobar, btw.)


Grazie! Perhaps getting a chocolate sundae with dinner last night was a bad idea. Eh, it was a night out with the family XD

That’s three votes now for JRiver > foobar, myself abstaining, though the one other dude is on the fence about it still. I’m almost tempted to go with JRMC just for the UX and DSP, both of which are lightyears ahead of foobar. That’s the same reason I rock Win10 instead of Linux really, despite my high school teacher drilling Ubuntu into our brains: I’m a bit lazy and would rather have others work on stuff like optimising the above and giving me decent presets, haha.

EDIT: Oh wait I just saw your profile, holy crap! Make that two votes between you and famish, myself still undecided while I wait for my ears to get back to normal. Great to see you here, haha :stuck_out_tongue:

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A surprising number of people, that don’t spend the time to delve into it, wind up not getting bit-perfect operation under Windows - even though they probably think they are.

Not that it is hard to do - just the defaults for basic systems don’t deliver it - and many people don’t bother to look any further. And when they do, they suddenly find they have to choose between different audio stacks (without necessarily understanding which to use when/why), and then make a bunch of settings-tweaks, to get what happens by default on other platforms.

Of course, given that it took Microsoft 15 years just to come to the UAC2 party, and they still have a ways to go on that front, this is not very surprising.

Consequently, it isn’t that shocking to hear that Audirvana on Windows isn’t the “install it and choose your output” experience that it can be on macOS. In general, long-term platform-specific software tends to be a bit wobbly and/or have odd interface/setup quirks when it is first ported to a new platform.


Another vote here for JRiver > foobar. If you like spending your time tinkering and searching for components and configuring rather than enjoy music, foobar may be your cup of tea. I did spend days reading, configuring and getting pretty comfortable with foobar, IMO, JRiver is still better. Purely for sound, I perceive no difference but UI, configuring and ease, foobar is almost stone-age. The only thing foobar has going for it is “free”. Audiophiles in general can be oxymoronic. These are people who would spend $1000+ on headphones, $500-3000 on DAC, $100-1000 on cables, don’t even talk about speaker prices and yet be squeamish at the price of a software, $50-100 that is actually a must for getting the sound into all these high priced components. JRiver, inspite been the “army swiss knife” sound is pretty awesome and the DSP is great.

Though having voted for JRiver and keeping my licence current, these days I exclusively use Roon for playback.


Hah! That might well explain how I ended up staying on with foobar in my extremely unskilled comparison with Audirvana+, yes. Still I do think I prefer the UX of JRiver to that of Audirvana; the fact that it’s a few dollars cheaper makes my going for JRMC over A+ all but a done deal if I ever decide to upgrade from foobar. @stressfree sums up the hesitation fairly well; as unfair as it may be to software developers (sorry!) there really is something more difficult about paying money for an intangible commodity (as opposed to working towards a more “meaningful” intangible like the appearance of positive regard) like a media player than spending the same amount on corporeal things that might make less of a difference.

Still, the prices of JRMC and A+ are lifetime licences, unless I’m mistaken? It may well be worth that amount for the better-than-most DSPs, and though I’ll likely be tempted to upgrade when newer versions with shinier bells and whistles come out the fact that this is a more permanent affair than my Microsoft Office subscription is encouraging.

They’re perpetual licenses, yes.

Version upgrades for JRMC are a paid deal, so you can stay on a current version as long as it works in your environment and not pay more than once. But any full-version upgrade will cost you.

Audirvana has free upgrades for minor version updates, which often include significant feature additions, but full-version upgrades are paid (discounted).

The only player I’m aware of that has a subscription option is Roon, and at $120/year or $500 as a lifetime option, it’s quite a bit more expensive. Worth it - if you use the bulk of it’s feature set, but if you just want a flexible player then it’s a harder pill to swallow.


Oh yeah. It’s a no brainer for Mac. Choose output to dac–then in the Native DSD Capability choose DSD over PCM standard 1.1 Choose location of your library . If you have MQA choose if your dac is decoder or renderer. The rest of the default settings seem to take care of themselves. Otherwise I love it